World Mental Health Day 2015 – Dignity Or Do I Have To Beg?


Dignity in Mental Health – 10 October

World Mental Health Day is always an important day to me, and this year it’s been one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The topic set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is ‘Dignity in Mental Health’.

What does that mean? And how should I choose to write on that topic. In deciding, it’s important to acknowledge that ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ will mean something different depending on where you call home. I live in New Zealand and what ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ is to me will probably be different to you.

What has come to mind is the times when my dignity has not been maintained in either living with my mental illness or being treated for that mental illness. Some of that has been directed to me specifically but other times it has been more of a societal issue. And that’s what I intended to write about today… until today. When I completely changed my mind because of the circumstance I have found myself in.

The term dignity is one of those which we all know but is quite difficult to define.  What do we really mean? So to the dictionary, I went;

“The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”

What does that mean? That was the Oxford Dictionary, that which I grew up with. Whether for amusement or clarification, sometimes it pays to take a look at The Urban Dictionary:

“A proper sense of pride and self-respect”

That was one of five definitions offered but is the one I feel most comfortable with. Because it’s about me (or you). It’s about self. That which will give me “a proper sense of pride and self-respect” will give me dignity. It makes sense to me.

Today I found myself in a looming sense of indignity (in terms of my mental health) because I am in a situation where I would have to expose myself more than someone without a mental illness might have to. It was making me feel sick. The more I thought about it, the more a headache came on. Maybe it might seem like no big deal but it is personal and it isn’t going to come easy.

 You might be aware that I am currently looking for some alternative accommodation for six months while my current abode is repaired of its earthquake damage. As is becoming a common task, this morning I went to look at a possible flat/apartment. I liked it. Actually I loved it. It would suit me down to the ground. As I left the agent gave me an application form which I would have to send through to her office.

These application forms are worse than applying for a job. Landlords can be exceptionally picky in this city. There is a huge demand for rental accommodation for exactly the reason I’m looking.  Earthquake repairs and people who have come to the city to work (on earthquake repairs) who need accommodation.

I know that if I had a job my chances of getting this place would rise substantially. You see, the jobless simply don’t stand a chance. We are an underclass and landlords don’t need to acknowledge that underclass even exist. But mental illness makes it worse.

I haven’t worked since 2010, at which point I had a part-time job for 18 months. Before that, I took nine years to complete a three-year degree. And before that I spent eight years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I have to go back to 1993 to find when I was employed full-time and actually did something those landlords would consider of note.

To get this flat (I saw today) I have to provide something of an employment history and then I have to provide personal references, separate from employment references. Are they kidding? As I said, I had to give up work years ago and I gave up on having friendships some years ago. They hurt too much. With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) it’s too hard and too painful. I couldn’t do it. I have no one who I could seek a personal reference from. I have no references.

Here’s my point:

There are other people for whom this process will be limiting if not failing. I know that I’m not alone. But for someone with a mental illness, landlords in my city are literally refusing to admit we exist. They simply don’t HAVE to admit I exist because they have plenty of nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s. And those nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s have good personal references too.

My only option is to get down and beg. IF I can possibly find a landlord or agent who will give me even just five minutes to beg they might actually discover… I might not have a job, or steady work record and I might not have upstanding people who know me BUT my mental illness, does not preclude me from being a good, responsible tenant who takes care of their property and pays their rent on time. Hey, they might even find they like me. If they give me a chance.

I am a good person. I will be a good tenant, and actually regardless of my lack of a job my insurance company back me.

But because I have a mental illness I simply don’t exist.

Dignity in Mental Health can be viewed from a perspective of how we are treated by mental health professionals. But it is just important to ask with what dignity are people with mental illnesses treated by society. Do we even exist in the eyes of other facets of society? Do we have to get down on our knees and beg for a place to live, or a benefit or a job?

Maybe you’re a Christchurch landlord and think you have every right to deny my existence. You do have that right but how would you want to be treated if tomorrow you were diagnosed with a mental illness, and your world came crashing down around you? Wouldn’t you want your dignity intact?

I have exactly four weeks to find somewhere to live. And sadly it is having an enormous impact on my mental health. Keep reading and I’ll be shouting from the rooftops of WordPress when I find somewhere to live.

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ― Michael J. Fox


It is five years today since my city, of Christchurch, was shaken so badly that I seriously thought the end of the world had come and was happening right on my doorstep.  A shallow, 7.1 Richter scale earthquake began a rollercoaster of quakes which would last more than two years. What followed was four earthquakes over 6 Richter scale and a staggering 16,000 plus quakes to today.

Not to mention the physical and emotional damage, it is without exaggeration that I say my life totally changed that day. How I live, how I think, how I feel and perhaps most importantly (in my eyes anyway), what matters to me. I am more compassionate. More mindful.

Christchurch wasn’t a city that got earthquakes.  That was Wellington (head north).  I had grown up knowing how to deal with earthquakes (run for the nearest doorway and hold on!), yet that 40 second quake was beyond anything I knew or had ever thought would happen to me.

It was 4.35am, so it was dark and I was asleep when I hit.  When I woke to the bed rocking and rolling, I immediately knew I had to get to the doorway (some maybe two metres away). You have no idea how hard is to get to a doorway in the midst of such a quake.

As I left my bed I instinctively grabbed one of my most precious possessions which was sitting by my bed. But when I (finally) made the doorway I realised I had left another very precious item still beside the bed. I immediately wanted it with me but wasn’t sure I could get back to the bed to get it… and perhaps most importantly still be alive. I chose not to go back.  I didn’t think I could get back and then back to the doorway alive. I still find it incredible that all that was in 40 seconds, it seemed so much longer.

No one died that day but more quakes happened, and people did die,  I admit I moved my focus of what mattered.

When people died in the quake of 22 February it really hit me that lives were at stake.  As I stood in an office car park with hundreds of others, having been evacuated from the building I was in, I saw injured people. While I probably had no doubt by then of the risks we faced, I heard on the grapevine that other buildings had collapsed. I knew that lives would be lost today. That said, my parents were by my side so I knew they were safe.  It was only a few hours before I could speak to my sister-in-law and knew they were all safe.  This was bad, but the worst (death) was happening to other people. I know that sounds a little callous, but it is what I was thinking at the time.

185 people died that day, one was known to me.

Six weeks later, my thinking changed again in a very abrupt way. The quakes continued and as a result of extreme stress, my father suffered heart failure. I was down on the floor in my lounge (my parents were by now living with me as their home had been declared unlivable and would later be demolished) doing CPR on Dad. I had never expected to be here, but thankfully had learnt CPR some 20 years ago. It took 20 minutes before paramedics arrived and took over (many roads were still blocked and impassable), another 20 minutes before they declared Dad dead.

Now this ‘worst thing possible’ had happened to me. Earthquakes now meant death, what’s more, death of my father and best friend. I now had to look after my mother, and this time when the phone calls were made to the family, I could no longer say that everyone was safe.

Some seven months earlier, my focus was on my possessions.  Of my most valuable, I had one with me but had left the other just a few metres away. The death of anyone hadn’t really  occurred to me. While the quake was bad, I never thought someone close to me might die. Now the unthinkable had happened.

Draw your own conclusions, that’s really what we have to do in such situations.  But I’ll tell you my conclusions.  I’m reminded of them each time I feel yet another shake (last night).

I’ve concluded that taking one day at a time is not an option. It’s essential. It’s what I have to do because I simply don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to say “I love you” tomorrow and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to say “I’m sorry“. I don’t know if my precious possessions will be gone, and whether my house will still be standing. Think that’s going too far, and in my opinion (now) you’re fooling yourself. My aim now is to take each day as it comes, because I really don’t know if tomorrow will actually come.

Five years on and I’m still waiting for my house to be repaired.  It is expected to start in November and will take six months.  I’ll be looking for somewhere else to live shortly. My brother’s business was all but destroyed five years ago. He’s still working hard to try to rebuild it. We are not finished with the aftermath. Not by a long shot. It will be a long time yet before we can breathe easily again. But meantime, kiwis (and especially kids) are now taught to “Drop, Cover, Hold” rather than trying to run for far away doorways.

Kia kaha, Christchurch
(Be strong)


Good Intentions

I had good intentions.  You know when an event is coming up and for once you’re organised?  Each day leading to the event is planned?  That’s how I was with Christmas this year.  I knew what I had to do, I had most of what I had to do done.

But then I got a phone call on Monday morning.

It changed all that.  While Christmas still happened (like such events have a habit of doing regardless of what we have happening in our lives), Christmas changed.  The days before, and the days afterward changed.  I think I’ll remember this Christmas.

I had already come to the conclusion that Christmas this year would be about family.  For once, I was actually looking forward to the day.  I don’t usually.  I’m one of those people who would rather ignore the day.  Usually I grudgingly do the things expected of me, but mostly detest this celebration… for a number of reasons.  This year was going to be different.  Somehow my mindset had changed just a little.

Early Monday morning I got a phone call to say my almost-87-year-old mother was not well.  I wasn’t yet dressed but threw on the nearest clean clothes I could find, and drove over to Mum’s flat in a nearby retirement village.  And there began a search to get help for her.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to do to begin with.  We are all fairly new to all this.  Thankfully I was able to get some quick advice and then acted on it.  Many phone calls later, Mum had an emergency appointment with her doctor in a few hours.  That followed with more appointments.

I can tell you that a few days before Christmas is not the time to seek help from health professionals.  Everyone wants to see them, but luckily those involved made room for mum.  Unfortunately the problem wasn’t solved and the conclusion was eventually that family would have to provide the care Mum needed.  That basically meant me!

What followed was three nights on Mum’s couch.  The most uncomfortable sofa bed I have ever had the misfortune to attempt to sleep on.  I have now spent seven days with Mum, although we agreed that she didn’t need me so much at night and that because my back was now extremely sore, I have been home at night.  I only live five minutes away and I can easily jump (if my body lets me) in the car and go back (as I have had to do).

Nearly a week on, Mum is doing better although is not herself.  I wonder whether I will ever see that ‘herself‘ again.  I don’t know.  That’s the nature of the illness.

I will continue to spend days with my mother, and then on Wednesday she will move to a rest home, providing residential care for the elderly.  This is something that was already planned.  This past week we tried unsuccessfully to move Mum early.  It didn’t happen because… well, I won’t get into that here.

That is the short story.  The purpose of sharing it here, as well as to simply write out for myself what happened, is that it very much fit with what I had already been thinking of for Christmas, and what I had intended to post about on Monday.  Obviously it didn’t happen.

Image credit: Permission obtained from Penny Redshaw http//: motivating

I am sharing this image firstly because I love Penny’s blog.  Somehow, without my involvement (obviously… it is not my blog) she illustrates what I am thinking.  Amazing!  I also love images of giraffes.  I’m sure I would love giraffes themselves but there are not many in this country.

For some weeks I have been thinking about what is important for me at Christmas.  My thoughts came from a disappointment that I simply wasn’t going to be able to give my nieces and nephews gifts this Christmas.  I had no money as a result of not only a very small income but also because of some recent very large and unexpected bills.

I started (a few weeks back) to feel pretty down about this, not to mention embarrassed.  I had to shift my thinking somehow, and I started to do that with Penny’s statement in this image.  Remember what is important.

What is important is that I am alive and can be with at least some of my family.  The niece and two nephews who I would be with were really what mattered.  But that doesn’t exclude the other family members I would also be with.

When my mother got sick this week, it gave me a new appreciation of the fact that I still have her, and that regardless of her illness she would (and was) with us on Christmas Day. Who knows how long she will be with us? I had to take her presence on Thursday as another thing that mattered.

It’s been a long, hard week.  And it’s not over yet.  My fibromyalgia is screaming, as are side effects of a new medication which made it almost, but not quite, impossible to get down on the floor and do jigsaws with four-year-old niece L.  Getting up afterwards was even harder.  But it was fun, and that was what was important.

Hey, life goes on and I have a new appreciation of what’s important for me.  It didn’t matter that I hadn’t given gifts.  I suspect the teenagers might have objected a little, but they didn’t to me.  We just had fun together, with their Grandma quietly looking on.  I wonder what she was thinking.  I know I’ll never know

But that’s what’s important to me right now.

 “My dear young cousin, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the eons, it’s that you can’t give up on your family, no matter how tempting they make it.”

― Rick Riordan

“But He’s Such A Nice Man”

I’m quite sure that utterings of “But She’s Such A Nice Woman” get said at times, but for the life of me, I can’t think of an example in this context.  This past week though, my city of Christchurch, and probably half of New Zealand has come out in support of “such nice men“. They can do no wrong, it seems. “Nice men‘ apparently makes them ‘innocent men‘.

Enough to make me sick for the victims of those “such nice men“.  Those men, who are defended by the masses and often close-minded, sometimes have victims.  And to me, the uttering of “but he’s such a nice man” simply goes far enough to harm the victim all over again.

Shame on us for letting niceties get in the way of supporting victims.

What am I talking about?  Mainly sexual harassment, one of those types of harm that often goes unrecognised.  This past week, in Christchurch, sexual harassment has been top of the list of talk-back topics, social media comments, newspapers and anywhere anyone could get themselves heard.  Everyone, it seems, has had an opinion.  Too often it has been the opinion of the close-minded and ignorant.  The only opinion we haven’t heard is that of the victim, bound to silence by a confidentiality clause.

A man (Roger Sutton), whose name won’t mean a lot to most readers, was accused of sexual harassment by a woman in his office.  This complaint made the big time here because that office is CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority).  Again, a name that won’t mean much, but here in Christchurch where we are recovery  mode from the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, CERA is perhaps the most important office in the city.  This man was its Chief Executive, and it seems that to many here, he was single-handedly making the recovery of the city happen.  And he was apparently ‘such a nice man’.  I never met him so I wouldn’t like to say although I admit he always seemed to come across well in media interviews.

The details don’t really matter.  What matters in this post is that the claim of sexual harassment was upheld, and there was a victim who wasn’t/wouldn’t/ couldn’t be heard.  She was not only anonymous but also bound by that confidentiality agreement.

The masses were crying such statements as:

“She’s just ugly!

She has no love in her life so has to wreck his life”

“But he’s such a nice man”  (heard repeatedly)

This all gets me angry because this woman who is now being torn to shreds, but remains anonymous and silent in terms of the agreement, is now not only a victim of Roger Sutton, but is also now a victim of the general public (not to mention the media who have also made the most of it).  She doesn’t need to be a victim twice.  What’s more is that too often we (the public) and the media make victims victims.  It’s just so wrong… regardless of how ‘nice‘ he is.

I admit that I possibly feel strongly about this because I too, have been the victim of sexual harassment.  And I too, also became a victim of the onlookers.  My experience was much less public, but for me the victimization of the onlookers actually hurt a whole lot more than the initial harassment.

My sexual harassment was not in the workplace, but rather in a church.  At the time I was a church-going Christian.  I grew up in the church (a minister’s kid) and to a large extent, I saw my church as something of an extended family (especially when most of my family had moved away).

To be sexually harassed by one of the male church leaders was very shocking and hurtful.  These people are supposed to be ones I could trust. I had naively thought that amongst church people I was safe.  Unfortunately that is so untrue.

Eventually I made a complaint to the church authorities.  Thankfully the head of the church, the minister, accepted my complaint.  He had received a similar complaint from another woman who had since left the church.  He and his wife would turn out to be my most supportive people.

The man who had abused me (and harassment is abuse in my mind)  was stripped of his leadership role.  As that became public, and the reasons behind the move were now known, the general public (of the church) quickly turned on me.  I was said to be “wrecking the man’s marriage“, “putting undue pressure on his wife“, and the familiar line came forth:

“But he’s such a nice man!”

He was a nice man, and everyone liked him.  Unfortunately no one wanted to believe what he had done, or was capable of.  I left the church soon after.  There was no space there for me as a victim of this man.  This church was no longer the safe ‘family‘ it had been.

The lesson I learnt since, over and over, is that nice people sometimes hurt people.  Nice people sometimes hurt, abuse and harass people.  I have gone on to learn that sometimes it’s is the nicest people who do the most harm to us.  That has certainly been my experience.  Sad but true.

What really worries me is how many victims have learnt the same lesson?  And what do they do?  It’s not just sexual harassment to which this applies.  It’s any type of harm.  How many victims choose to stay silent because of this?  How many perpetrators run free?

“To those who abuse: the sin is yours, the crime is yours, and the shame is yours. To those who protect the perpetrators: blaming the victims only masks the evil within, making you as guilty as those who abuse. Stand up for the innocent or go down with the rest.”

― Flora Jessop, Church of Lies




Shifting The Goal Posts Is Okay


Recently I have seen a  number of statements and general topics on social media formats which show what I see as a resignation by sufferers of mental illnesses to a belief that the point at which they are now is where they’re going to be for life.  Examples of statements include:

“It’s beyond happiness now, I just have to exist”

“Getting better is no longer an option”

“I will be depressed for the rest of my life.”


I am the first to say that I have been at that point myself.  Ten years ago I simply believed that happiness was not an option for me, and that yes, how my life was then would be how it always would be.

Nothing took away any sense of hope more than these statements.  Actually there was no hope (in my mind) , and I was simply existing.  If I had read a post like this at all, I would have said “it’s easy for you to say” and probably “you just don’t understand my reality“.

But I honestly believe that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Instead, this is what I believe:

“At any given moment, you have the power to say that this is NOT how the story is going to END”

― M.H.S. Pourri

 Frankly I have as much reason as anyone else to close the book, shut up shop and say “this is how it’s going to be“.  I have two decades of diagnosed mental illnesses.  I have been told repeatedly by doctors, who were ready to give up, that this is just how it’s going to be for me.  I know what it feels like to have no hope.  My family knows too how it is to have no hope for me.

25 years ago I was healthy, relatively happy and quickly climbing my way to the top of the corporate ladder.  My goal was to be Chief Executive.  It’s almost funny to think of that now, because that corporate world I was a part of (and loved) seems so foreign to what my life became just a few years later.  One unexpected bout of ill-health, followed by post-viral depression, and my life just spiralled down from there.

I know now that I’m never going to achieve that career goal.  Actually it’s not what I want anymore either.  But I’m not prepared to settle for nothing.  I don’t want to accept that there is no cure, so that my life will be as it is forever.  And I strongly believe that if I accepted that fate, then I would simply be fulfilling a very bleak prophecy.


As you may know, I am a Kiwi.  We New Zealanders take a fair bit of pride in thinking we know more about our national sport, rugby, than we actually do.  I admit from the outset that I’m not a rugby fan (there are a couple of us in the country!) but I know enough to know that sometimes it’s okay to shift the goal posts.

One end of a rugby pitch to the other is a long way, especially if you’re being chased by the entire opposing team.  Just watching them, I know it’s a fair workout from one goal post to the other.  I think it’s 100 metres.

Now think about rugby for school children.  We know that full distance is too far, and so young children play ruby across the field (70 metres).  It just makes sense and it’s realistic.  It’s something they can work at to achieve.

Do you need another example?  Try wheelchair rugby.  It’s one of the toughest team sports I’ve seen.  They play on a basketball court.

It’s the same when you’re learning to swim.  I remember my big goal was to be able to swim the whole length of the pool.  But that was unrealistic for this six year old, and so my first aim was to swim across the width of the pool.  And I was so proud when I did.

I can look back at my life 25 years ago and think I’ll never get to my goal and so I may as well stop right here.  Or I can shift my goal posts and work at something that is achievable, in spite of both my chronic mental and physical illnesses.  That has to be better than sitting feeling feeling I’m doomed… and getting more depressed by the minute.

I know that it’s hard to see beyond mental illness, especially those illnesses that are technically with us for life.  I’ve been pretty sick (thanks fibro!) over the past few weeks and yes, I would find it easy to give up and accept an invalid life.

But I don’t want to.  I don’t know exactly what is ahead of me, or even what is possible, but I have hope for better than I’ve got now.  It’s why I use the blog title I do. Infinite Sadness… or hope? is my expression of choosing  hope over what I have lived with through illness.

I don’t know what ‘getting better‘ looks like.  I don’t know what it is going to involve to get there.  I know that my ‘being better‘ won’t look like the life I had 25 years ago.  That’s just not possible now.  There are so many unknowns and obstacles right now, that it would be so easy to settle for never ‘getting better‘.  While it wouldn’t be comfortable, it would be the easy option.  But I simply can not accept that.  I have to hope that it will be better.

One last thing.  Mental Health Awareness Month begins today (on NZ time zone anyway).  Wouldn’t it be great to have it focussed on hope?  Mental Illness is a terrible thing but I believe that no matter what diagnosis we have, there is hope for all of us.

I strongly believe that this following statement applies as much to the mind as to the heart.

If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.

― Shane Koyczan (2013)


Remembering Trauma – Anzac Day 2014


Image Credit:  Aaron Campbell Photography See his Facebook page at:
Image Credit: Aaron Campbell Photography
See his Facebook page at:

Today, in Australia and New Zealand, we commemorate Anzac Day. It is a national day of remembrance in both countries that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders (including animals) “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations”.  It particularly honours those Army soldiers who served at Galliopli in 1915.  

There are many commemoration services held around both countries and at Galliopli, but I have to admit that it’s been a while since I have been to one.  I simply don’t ‘do‘ crowds.  That doesn’t stop me from remembering though.  While I am an advocate of peace, I have great admiration and respect for those who have served in the past, and those who still serve.  I just hope and pray that one day such service will no longer be necessary and we will find a way of living in this world in harmony.

My chief memory relating to Anzac Day lies with my paternal Grandfather.  Let me tell you about his war service.  Don’t worry.  It won’t take long.

My grandfather joined the Royal New Zealand Navy  (RNZN) Intelligence Division as a Lieutenant to fight in World War Two.  He was stationed at home in New Zealand but was required to go overseas regularly.  He was injured in an accident (in New Zealand) and those injuries left him unwell for the rest of his life.

That’s it.  We don’t know anything else.  In the approximately five years my grandfather served, and in the years after, he was never allowed to tell anyone of what he did, and where he went.  Granddad died about 25 years later and took his secrets with him.

It strikes me this year as I remember him, and others who served, that the trauma they witnessed must have been immense.  Now days we are becoming more aware of the affects of the trauma soldiers face.  We recognise the existence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the havoc that can play on their lives in the years following their service.  I know we still have a distance to go in understanding the need for help and treatment but awareness in itself has to be good.

But today, I am struck by the lack of this knowledge and understanding back in the time my grandfather served, and before in previous wars.  I suspect war was very different then, to what it is today, but no less traumatic.  Not just for those who served either.

My father was a child at the time his father was away at war.  Neither he, not my grandmother were allowed to know anything.  Not then, not ever. The hardship and fear they must have carried with them must have been huge.  Remember too, this was a time of no emails, no Skype, simply no communication but the odd letter.

My grandfather, and many others with him, lived both then and into the future with no assistance in dealing with what they had seen, done and heard.  The affect on their lives must be beyond our modern comprehension.

Granddad died, from his war injuries when I was three.  I have just one memory of him playing in this front garden with me.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

 – Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen


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River of Flowers, 2014

“What’s all this talk about an earthquake?” says Mum.

That was my 86-year-old mother’s question for me when I arrived at her home a few days ago.  I was astounded that she didn’t know.  It was pretty much ‘the’ topic here in the past week.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the deadly earthquake that struck my city of Christchurch at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011.  Naturally the anniversary has been in the news this week, but Mum couldn’t remember an earthquake being at this time of year.  Actually, I was really thankful.  This woman had lost so much in that earthquake.  More than most.  She deserved to have it lifted from her memory for a bit.  I was glad, for once, that she had no idea what I was talking about.

As we then talked, her memories came back, but we had over 12,000 earthquakes over a period of about 18 months so it wasn’t surprising that she couldn’t remember one of them. Then she was confused as to which quake she had fallen over in.  I assured her that in that quake, thankfully, she had already been sitting down when it struck and she managed to remain in her chair as her home fell to pieces around her. My father though, was thrown to the floor.  So was I.

Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013
River of Flowers, Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013 (Used with permission)
Image credit: River of Flowers, Healthy Christchurch and Avon Otakaro Network
See:  Healthy Christchurch on Facebook or their website Healthy Christchurch

As part of a range of commemoration events in the city, there is one that I find draws me each year.  The River of Flowers is an opportunity for the public to share their experiences and hopes for the future by throwing a flower into one of the two rivers that flows through the city, and by writing a message of hope and tying it to a tree as various points.  Throwing my flower into the river which has always been important in my life, is for me, letting go for a few moments of the sadness, trauma, loss, and worries about the future.  It feels healthy to me, and I like that.

Natural disasters, like our quakes, happen across the world all the time.  Something that had never occurred to me until I lived through this, was that the aftermath goes on for years to come after a disaster.  When the media and their cameras have all gone away, and the rest of the world isn’t hearing anymore, the sad reality is that people go on suffering.

Three years on and my life is still unsettled (to say the least).  I now have a chronic illness (fibromyalgia) which is attributed to the trauma of the quakes.   I live in a severely damaged house and still have no idea how that will be fixed.  My house is pretty cold in winter because of the damage, but aside from that, I’m simply used to the damage.  That said, don’t suppose for a minute that I like living in a house that is now tilted on a bit of an angle.  Or the curtains blowing in the breeze even though no windows are open.  But it’s just life here in Christchurch and I know there are people here worse off than me.

I know full well that mental health is a major issue in my city.  Children are still badly traumatised, as well as many adults.  Free counselling sessions just don’t go far enough.  Three sessions per person is not enough.  The use of anti-depressants has risen significantly.  The psychiatric hospital is overflowing and they’re talking of putting inpatients into caravans out on the lawn.  Suicide statistics tend to run behind by a few years, but I understand the numbers are sadly picking up in my city.  Let’s not forget too, that there is a major housing shortage here now as well as significant poverty.  These both contribute to the state of mental well being.

But this is what really disturbs me…

A year before our deadly earthquake, Haiti (Port-au-Prince) suffered a quake too.  220,000 people are estimated to have died on 12 January 2010.  In Christchurch, there were officially 185 people died.  At the height of the Haiti quake, one and a half million people were displaced and sheltering in tent villages.  That’s just huge.  And it makes me say “what have I got to complain about?”.

While I wonder about the ongoing mental health of those who lived through the quakes here in Christchurch, I wonder even more what is being done for the people of Haiti.  Do they get access to free counselling like we have?  Are the children getting the resources that are being pumped into Christchurch.  It is so difficult to know what is being done for victims of natural disasters when the lights go off on the media bandwagons.  That said, I have a fair idea of the answers to my questions.

Whether it is an earthquake (or 12,000), a volcanic eruption, a hurricane, a bush fire or any other devastating event somehow we need to remember that life afterward is changed and will probably never be the same again.  Not just the physical welfare of victims matters, not just the infrastructure and buildings that have to be rebuilt, the mental health of victims will continue to be a major issue for years to come.

Somehow I think we forget, once the media have gone, and even more so we forget when the media never really got there.  It seems to me that third world countries recovering from disaster, do it very much on their own.

While today, I remember a day I never want to experience ever again, I want to remember people in other countries doing similar recoveries.  I have been fortunate to have access to welfare, Red Cross funding and the like.  I never ended up in a tent city.  I have insurance cover to rebuild my home (when they finally get to it).  But for so many people there is none of this, and those people are the ones I have on my mind today.

“How strange it (the earthquake) must all have seemed to them, here where they lived so safely always! They thought such a dreadful thing could happen to others, but not to them. That is the way!” 

― William Dean Howells, A Sleep and a Forgetting

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My Letter To America

It’s pretty clear to me that readers of my blog from United States outnumber all other countries by leaps and bounds, and because of that it’s important for me to say that I know what I am about to say might not fit too comfortably with those readers.  I know my country of New Zealand and yours, are quite different.  It is over twenty years now since I visited your country and I know how different what I saw then was from where I live.  Even though we might look the same, or similar, I think it is fair to say that our culture and society is quite different.  This post, which is basically about the use of guns, is not my attempt to sway your opinions on gun laws but rather I want to acknowledge that your environment is different to mine but clearly both have some issues to address in terms of guns.

In the past few days, New Zealand has been rocked by the news of the murder of two children, aged six and nine, (by their father) followed by the suicide of their father in Dunedin, one of New Zealand’s four largest cities.  It was not a mass shooting.  It is 24 years since we had a mass shooting in New Zealand (Aramoana, 1990).

The father shot dead the children in their beds, before turning on gun on himself.  Those children come from a school now in mourning, and while I hate to say it, I suspect this type of incident happens every day in your country.  In my country though, it is not common, thank God.  The mother of the children, the man’s ex-wife, had run next door to get help.  It’s hard to begin to imagine the hell she must be going through now.

The man apparently had a mental illness and was on medication for it.  To his family’s knowledge he did not have a firearms licence, necessary in New Zealand to own a gun.  It’s hard to imagine how he would have held a licence with a string of breach of protection orders in the past year.  Questions that are all being asked now.

Personally I am very glad that it is not easy to obtain a gun in my country.  I won’t pretend to be anything other than anti-guns, although as I said already I recognise that my society and yours are quite different.  But I will always stand up for more control on gun ownership.  I have no desire to live in a world where owning a gun is necessary, or even desirable.

I was 15 years old when my ex-boyfriend J loaded a rifle, gave it to me and told me to kill him.  He didn’t want to live if I wouldn’t be his girlfriend.  He owned a gun (he was 18 at the time) for hunting but I strongly believed both then and now that he should not have access to one.  Why?  He was too impulsive.  I knew he could shoot himself, or me for that matter, without too much thought.  The thought would come later, when it was too late.  And that is the problem I have with guns.  Act now, think and get the facts later.

I can still remember thinking how easily it would be to pull the trigger.  By then J had been creating a lot of problem for me by stalking.  Fear thankfully got the better of me, aside from the fact that I’m not the sort of person who could fire a bullet at anything, anyone. Harming anything is difficult for me.  I just wouldn’t do it.  Instead I dropped the gun and fled, running about three miles home.  He followed me on his motorbike.  Who knows where the gun was by then.  I didn’t stop to ask.

In spite of the fact that I would have arrived home hot, sweaty and out of breath I didn’t tell anyone what had happened.  My family was all home, it was Saturday night, and no one knew a thing.  It was many years before I ever let that burden go by telling my family (when I wrote my book).  The trauma of that night was something I carried with me from then on.  I didn’t tell anyone because I thought it must be my fault.  What’s more I had been told I must show Christian compassion to J, and frankly that seemed so unfair.  It still seems unfair and totally wrong to me.  I hate the thought of people being guilted into this Christian compassion.

That night was over 30 years ago now and, in spite of a lot of therapy, I still carry it with me when I see things like the Dunedin shooting reported.

It’s too easy to pull a trigger.  From what that man had with him, he had apparently gone there to burn the house down.  Who knows whether the shootings were part of the deal.  Maybe it was simply too easy.  I don’t know, and I guess no one will ever know.

I don’t want to get into a gun lobby debate but when this story hit me I needed to say that while I hate that those children have died, and I hate that their mother is now alone, I am very glad that guns are not common in New Zealand.  Tragedies like this happen but not often.  Thankfully.  Frankly I wish it was harder still to get our hands on guns here.  I simply don’t believe there is a need, although I accept that maybe your country is different.

“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.” 

― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

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Scared Of The Dark

Today in New Zealand, is Guy Fawkes Night.  It’s a tradition that is celebrated in a number of countries and has its origins back in 1605 when a man by the name of Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the British Parliament.  Apart from the fact that New Zealand is part of the British Commonwealth, I really don’t see why we still ‘celebrate’ it.  Afterall it’s nothing to do with my country is hardly an honourable event.

Celebrations come complete with bonfires and fireworks, and what kiwi child can’t remember their father tying Catherine Wheels to the clothesline, and setting off Skyrockets out of the old glass Fanta bottles?  The fireworks were always pretty but the fear of the noise and fire was overwhelming for me, and I was usually glad it was over.  The bullies after school would set off Double Happy and Tom Thumb firecrackers, throwing them at anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Again, not something I enjoyed.  Thankfully firecrackers are no longer legal.

Nowadays there is a move to official, public firework displays down at our local New Brighton Beach.  I’m quite okay with those, although I don’t ‘do’ crowds so tend to stay away.  Crowds in the dark, with loud explosions, is not my idea of fun, even if it’s professionals out on the sea lighting the fuse.  But still many people choose to let off their own fireworks in their backyards, and last night it seemed that my whole suburb was doing this (perhaps leaving them free to go to the official display tonight).

Yesterday wasn’t one of my better days.  Actually on the fibromyalgia front, it was a pretty good day (finally) but there were a few emotional triggers, a few ghosts from the past,  that set off several (private thankfully) meltdowns of tears.  It was one of those days I didn’t want to be awake anymore so headed to bed early.  Unfortunately at the same time my suburb was letting off fireworks.

See?   I can admit it.  I’m scared of the dark.  Actually I wasn’t as a child, but as life has gone on and trauma has come my way I have come to dread the dark.  I simply don’t like not being able to see what is around me.  I need to be able to see if there are any threats to my safety or sanity.  Some nights are better than others but last night was one of those where I was sleeping with the light on.  What’s more I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes.  I desperately needed to see.  That doesn’t help in the getting to sleep process.

As I lay there, trying to go to sleep, fireworks were exploding nearby sending both light (through the curtains) and noise into the room.  I was anything but relaxed.  I knew it was probably a window of about half an hour (as it went dark outside) that the fireworks would continue.  I grit my teeth (don’t tell my dentist) and sat it out.

“Someone once told me that none of us are actually afraid of the dark; we’re scared of what it conceals from us. We’re afraid of having something with the potential to hurt us standing right before our eyes and no registering it as a threat. People can be like that too.”

– Unknown

For me, these words are quite accurate.  I wasn’t scared of the dark as a child and generally wasn’t an anxious child.  I’m 48 years old now and I struggle to sleep in  the dark.  Even my darling L (who, by the way,  turns three next week) sleeps in the dark, with an occasional visit from mum.  But not me.  I go through stages of needing a light on somewhere, but right now it’s not a good stage.

I have learned what the dark contains, and what is hidden in the shadows.  I have learnt that there are people and things that can hurt me.  I have only just got over the whole ‘earthquakes in the dark‘ thing that has been hitting my city for three years now.  Imagine a 7.1 quake in the dark if you can, and you soon learn of what you are scared.

More recently though I have discovered there were people standing right beside me, that were a threat to me… but I had no idea for far too long.  They were there to abuse me, and lie to me, determined to ‘play’ with me and perhaps even destroy me… and I had no idea.  Let me be clear.  I knew they were there, but I had no idea they were such a terrible threat to me.

That’s why I’m scared of the dark.  I need to know what, and who is there.  I can’t close my eyes because I might miss their approach.  Now that I know of their existence and threat, I can do (and have done) what I can to protect myself.  But trauma has visited me again, and I remain fearful of anything else that might seek to harm me.

I have some work to do, but meanwhile the light stays on.

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” 

— Laurell K. Hamilton (Mistral’s Kiss (Merry Gentry, #5))